23 Creative Ways To Shoot Street Photography Without Overcoming Your Fear
The biggest challenge in street photography is overcoming your fear of shooting strangers. But what if I told you that there are countless other ways to do it without going "right in the face". It's such a beautiful genre and I hope that this article helps newcomers to hit the streets - without getting hit in the face or being scared of it.
Given street photography's history, most people associate a raw and direct style with this genre. In order to take street photos from up close, it's necessary to overcome your fear. However, in the last years street photography has evolved more and more into fine art street photography.
Fine art street photography takes a more gentle, calm and reduced take on the genre. While highly interesting subjects are still essential, sceneries play a more vital role than ever. You don't have to "jump right into someone's face" anymore to capture life on the street. It's more about the synergy between the human element and it's environment than just the subject itself. The wisdom of "the closer, the better" undergoes an exciting transformation these last years.
Taking a step back to shoot also means respecting your subjects privacy. Imagine you walk down the street and out of nowhere someone flash photographs your face. I'm sure that some might disagree with me here, but I think it's rather disrespectful and intrusive. I have the feeling that a bit more distances makes everything more comfortable for you and your subjects.
Today I would love to present to you 23 creative ways to shoot street photos where this big mountain of fear won't stand in your way!
1. Shoot strangers who are too focused to even notice you
Capture people that are busy with a task. Whether it's work-related or trying to open a bottle of beer. They are so caught up in the moment that they won't even notice you. While you gently approach them, think through your composition. Raise your camera slowly, hit the shutter a few times and move on.
2. Shoot strangers from inside a restaurant through a window
If you know a great little diner, restaurant or bar, head there today. Order your favorite drink and may the world serve you the best strangers on the house. Through the reflection of the window from the outside, it's hard to notice you in the first place.
Some windows aren't noticeable at all in your street photos, others may appear in your shot. Don't worry though, a reflection of yourself or the interior can also give your photo a personal relation to you! It's your street photography album from your favorite soul food place!
3. Capture strangers That simply aren't real people
Yes, street photography is about capturing candid moments in every day life. However, it doesn't mean that it's about real people all the time.
Take a look around at everything that looks like a person or is a photo of one. Billboards usually serve as the best sources for these moments. However, try to make a connection between a stranger and your "unreal" stranger. Tell a little story if you can.
In the shot above, I waited a 20 minutes till a guy with a white umbrella arrived. That way, the snow of the second stranger above really made sense.
Back in 2013, I didn't use burst mode, which is why the feet aren't perfect. Ideally, it's a triangle. Always shoot 5-6 photos of a moment so you can pick the best one at home later.
4. Shoot Reflections of strangers on the ground
In the realm of reflections, shadows and silhouettes you'll find countless opportunities. Don't get too caught up in the idea of people "on the street". Turn your head around and see what's under them.
For that photo, I looked for beautiful store reflection on the ground for 15 minutes. When I found a nice composition, I waited for 30 minutes till the right person walked into the frame.
This rather abstract fine art street photography style lives off structures, patterns, light and gorgeous silhouettes. However, if the ground is clean and polished, you'll even see the face of the person. I simply flipped the photo around in post-processing, cropped it and voila!
5. Take photos of strangers that already take photos of you or something behind you
How often do you walk through a busy park, museum or street where people are taking photos? Head down to those places and shoot the ones that shoot you or something behind you.
If someone already shoots the background behind you, you might as well return the favor. Many times I've ended up having a great conversation about photography afterwards.
Photographers are always creative subjects and are generally more understanding when it comes to shooting strangers.
In the street photo above, I actually wanted to take a photo of the minimalist staircase. When I saw the guy shooting it, I loved the scenery even more and hit the shutter!
6. Shoot people that are sleeping
That sounds so wrong on so many levels, but it works rather well. Perfect places are park benches, airplanes, trains and public transport in general.
As long as you keep a bit of distance and don't wake them up, it's going to be fine. Since they are sleeping, you have a bit more time to develop your composition.
7. Shoot strangers that had a few drinks
Why don't you head down to the nightlife neighbourhoods in your town? You'll discover many unique characters that can't wait to stand in the limelight...or lay in it.
Of course, you should always check in what kind of mood people are. Most drunk people really wouldn't mind in my experience. But what if they do?
...offer them a drink.
8. Take photos of strangers that are running away anyways
I could've flash photographed that woman in the face, she wouldn't have minded. It was raining cats and dogs that night. While I found shelter in front of a shop, she had a different place in mind.
If someone is running away from you anyways, you might as well shoot them when they "cross the finish line". Usually, those moments offer a rather dynamic and vibrant feel. Make sure to use a low aperture value and a rather fast shutter speed to freeze the subject.
9. Capture people in buildings
Have you ever thought about shooting people that are behind a window in a building close by? Given the distance, most people wouldn't even notice you.
Besides that, the scenery will add so much to the moment. Even if you only capture a tiny silhouette, it will look rather interesting. Think about all the buildings you see every day. Is there maybe a chance to capture someone through a window?
If the reflections on the glass are too strong, simply wait for the evening or a grey day.
10. Take photos of harmless animals
Most animals on the street are perfect subjects. Whether you involve a human subject as well is up to you. Dogs, cats, birds or squirrels always tell tiny stories that are just waiting to be captured by you!
Try to use a silent shutter (maybe your camera has that function) or a zoom lens if they are too scared of you. I've captured countless animals and they've turned out to be great subjects. Take a look at the street photo above. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him. After approaching him slowly, I hit the shutter a few times till he looked to the front again.
11. Use windows as big mirrors to shoot your street photos
As much as I love reflections on the ground, windows are a great opportunity as well! When you take a photo of a shopping window, no one will think it's about them.
Simply capture your subjects through the window. Sometimes, you don't even notice that it's a window at all. I always love "mirroring" streets through big glass fronts as you can see in the fine art street photo above.
12. Shoot strangers that just don't give crap
As dumb as it sounds, but some people aren't bothered by you at all. The more you observe people on the street, the more you'll notice them.
When I stumbled upon the guy in the photo, I just knew he wouldn't care. He smoked his cigarette and had the "whatever" look on his face. Indifferent people are just as good as strangers with a smile from left to right.
Even though the guy in the photo was harmless in real life, he looks rather badass in the photo!
13. Shoot People that are distracted
I remember this moment so clearly. I was having a coffee in the cafe down the street. All of a sudden, the sun shined through the rainy clouds.
I grabbed my phone, ran down the street and spotted a couple with two red umbrellas. I took a photo with every step towards them. Since they were looking at the sky under their umbrellas, they couldn't even notice me.
Is it bad if you don't show faces? Not at all! Oftentimes, more abstract and reduced photos leave more room for interpretation!
14. Shoot someone that just loves to be in the spotlight
When you go to another country (especially Asian countries), strangers won't mind you and your camera too much. You are a foreigner anyways with "tourist" written all over your forehead. Embrace your exotic status!
The old men you see in my fine art street photograph "Go Ahead Punk, Make My Day" noticed me shooting. I tried to take a photo of him from the hip, but he heard the shutter.
He subtly changed his posture and went all in with the coolest casual pose ever. We didn't even talk - we both understood each other through our shared moment.
15. Take a photo of someone that Hates your guts anyways...
Sounds bizarre, but it does happen though. If you encounter people on the street or in your daily life that can't stand you anyways, you might as well hit the shutter.
This conductor was rather unfriendly to me when he checked my ticket. I was nothing but nice to him, but he apparently wanted to drop a load of "I hate this job" on me that day.
My favorite challenge is to transform negative moments into positive ones. When I was about to leave the train, he was waiting outside. He spotted me looking through the window, I raised my camera and captured his warm smile...
I mean, go ahead and kick me out of the train...I need to go out anyways.
16. Shoot People behind windows
Especially when windows are rainy and fogged it works rather well. When I spotted this scene in a tram in Düsseldorf, I could even take the time to compose it well.
No one was looking outside since it was dark and rainy anyways. Even if people saw you, they probably wouldn't even care. The tram or metro takes off every second and Candy Cush doesn't play itself.
I really like that you can't even see the faces clearly. It makes the moment much more abstract and artistic rather than merely journalistic.
17. Make a photo of people that walk into "your scene"
What if you give people the impression that they walked into your scene? You've been waiting for the perfect subject, however, it doesn't seem that way.
When I stood at this beautiful old alley, I knew I had to shoot a street photo here. I just stood there looking through the viewfinder. I captured many different subjects that day. No one had the feeling that I was waiting for them.
18. Capture strangers with a bit of distance
Who says you have to get closer to take a good street photo? The further away, the more you can present the scenery as well. Besides, no one will ever think you are taking a photo of them.
When it comes to silhouettes, it's important to nail the natural contrasts. White on black and black on white is the ideal contrast. Always try to aim for that as much as you can. Otherwise your viewer won't be able to spot your subject quickly.
19. Capture strangers with a lot of distance
If you take a bit of distance, you might as well go all in. I took this street photo from the 18th floor of my apartment in Bangkok where I lived for a while.
To be honest with you, I was pretty scared when I took it. Thanks to the humid heat and my sweaty hands, I almost dropped my camera that night...
The further you are away from your subject, the better the natural contrasts have to be. As you can see in my street photo above, the subject pops out right away. Otherwise it wouldn't work that well.
20. Capture strangers that simply won't move
Although I wouldn't shoot every security guard and police man I see, some are even used to being photographed. When I was in Seoul 2013, I spotted this lovely police woman. I observed her for a while and noticed that she wasn't allowed to leave her spot.
I took a photo of her, smiled at her and she smiled back. Especially in touristy areas, most security guards have a high tolerance for being captured.
21. Shoot people that are smoking
I've noticed that most people who are smoking are great subjects. Especially strangers who vape are so wrapped in smoke that they won't even notice you.
The smoke usually creates a beautiful natural contrast on a dark background. I've captured the woman in the photo many times in all sorts of different positions. Even though I also have one where she looks in the camera, I love the one facing another direction much more.
22. Shoot people from the side
There are so many creative ways to shoot someone from the side. In the street photo above, I saw the gorgeous background and the contrast with the escalator.
I knew that someone would take it soon and just waited for a while. To improve the shot, I captured 10-15 different people and picked the one I liked most.
If you shoot from the side, people generally won't think that you are capturing them. Especially in interesting sceneries they rather have the feeling to have ruined your shot.
23. Take photos of tiny strangers
If shooting big strangers scares you too much, you might as well start with the little ones. Please make sure to talk to the parents right after to share your intentions and ask them whether it's okay. So far, 90% were flattered and loved my enthusiasm for golden moments on the streets!
The moment above was so magical! I followed this family of three for a while down the street while the kid was sleeping. All of a sudden, the kid woke up, spotted me and couldn't stop looking at me...click!
I know that street photography is always associated with conquering and overcoming your fear so you can shoot strangers. However, there are countless other ways to shoot striking street photos without going "right in the face" as you see.
I hope these 23 tips inspired you to innovate and improve your street photography. In order to make the most out of these ideas, just pick a few of them for your next street photo walk and shoot away!
I always say that the Universe's No. 1 hiding place for the most awesome stuff is right behind fear...
...however, there is also some sweet stuff right in front of it if you know where to look!